Salary Survey Extra: What is your college degree worth?
Posted on
October 20, 2016

Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of both our annual Salary Survey and our smaller Salary Survey PLUS polls. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Do you need a college degree to succeed in IT?

What sort of college degree do you need to succeed in IT? Higher education is a perennial hot topic when it comes to the tech realm, given that, for many techies, core computing skills are largely self-taught. Nobody is surprised by a story about an IT entrepreneur who dropped out of [name of high-profile university] to launch his or her hugely successful career. It's almost more surprising, frankly, to encounter a tech titan who stayed in college at least four years.

On the other hand, getting gazillions for your app and owning a penthouse apartment and a self-driving car by age 30 is sort of like playing in the NFL or NBA. Sure, it happens for some people. The shining example of a few dazzling outliers, however, probably isn't the best place to look for a template of the path to professional success. It's been fairly reliably demonstrated, on the other hand, that college graduates have a wider range of employment options and better long-term earning power than those for whom the last word in formal education is a high school diploma.

This week, we look to our recently concluded Salary Survey PLUS about networking certifications for some additional insight. One thing to note straight off the bat is that most IT professionals don't skip college. Out of all U.S. respondents, 79 percent entered the workforce with at least an associate's (two-year) degree, and 62 percent started off with a bachelor's degree or better. So, yes, you can skip college if you like, but it's definitely an against-the-grain concept.

There is a degree to which higher education, or lack thereof, tends to even out over time. Among all U.S. networking professionals with no college education, the average annual salary reported in our survey is $78,100, which is pretty good. The average annual salary for those with at least an associate's (two-year) degree or better is higher, but not to a knock-your-socks-off extent: $83,940.

When we look at the impact of higher education over time, we tend to see the expected curve of gradual salary growth with increased professional experience. Those who don't complete college, or never even start it, on the other hand, tend to grow their salaries at a faster rate:

Years of Experience College Degree Average Annual Salary Years of Experience College Degree Average Annual Salary
1-3 None $53,380 1-3 Bachelor’s $58,520
4-6 None $77,212 4-6 Bachelor’s $76,370
7-10 None $87,750 7-10 Bachelor’s $78,242
1-3 Associate’s $47,200 1-3 Master’s $60,353
4-6 Associate’s $56,540 4-7 Master’s $64,800
7-10 Associate’s $59,260 7-10 Master’s $87,730

A bachelor's or master's degree, it would seem, will get you off to a faster start in terms of earning power, but you won't necessarily be making more than peers of lesser educational pedigree after your first few years in the field. And it would seem that an associate's degree may even act as a hindrance to earning power.

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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